NPR : News

Filed Under:

A DNA Check Reveals Widespread Fish Mislabeling In Massachusetts

Beware, Massachusetts fish fans: If you're buying or ordering red snapper, white tuna, local cod or haddock, there's a pretty good chance that's not what you're going to get.

Two intrepid reporters at the Boston Globe set out to figure out just how bad one form of fish fraud — mislabeling — is in restaurants, markets and grocery stores across the state. They collected 183 samples of fish from 134 sites and hired a laboratory in Canada to check the DNA. And they published their results in a two-part series this week: scientists found that 87 of 183 were sold with the wrong species name — some 48 percent.

"... if you're at a sushi restaurant and they're serving red snapper, it's almost definitely not red snapper," Globe reporter told NPR's Melissa Block last night on All Things Considered. "It's probably tilapia. And if you're ordering white tuna, it's also probably not white tuna. You're probably going to get escolar."

(If you're not familiar with escolar, it has the unpalatable nickname of "the ex-lax fish" because it sometimes causes gastrointestinal problems.)

The reporters focused on the red snapper, white tuna, local cod and haddock because those are the ones most likely to be mislabeled. That's partly because cheaper substitutes — like escolar, ocean perch or Vietnamese catfish — closely resemble them, especially once they've been filleted. "Even the best chefs can have difficulty [telling the difference]," an industry expert told the Globe.

Greed and limited availability of some fish — as well as ignorance — seem to be the driving forces behind the fraud, the paper found. In some cases, the fish get mislabeled at the beginning of the supply chain. In other cases, it's restaurant owners or chefs who never change the menu once a favorite fish becomes too expensive or too hard to find.

Local commercial fishermen are also none too pleased by revelations of just how widespread the problem is. One Cape Cod fisherman said that when frozen fish from the Pacific is sold as fresh local fish, "it kills us."

It also irks marine biologists. As our health blog Shots has reported, a conservation biologist at the Guy Harvey Research Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., did a similar DNA study in 2009 and found the same problem.

Here at The Salt, we were wondering whether those of us outside of Boston should be worried about mislabeling, too. The answer is: probably. But National Fisheries Institute spokesman Gavin Gibbons tells us that the problem could be worse in New England because it's such a big seafood market.

Gibbons says there are things consumers can do to minimize fish fraud. "Find out if your local restaurant and grocery store uses suppliers that are members of the Better Seafood Board," he says. "If the answer is no, your answer should be 'why not?' (No members of the Better Fish Board, which was formed to help eliminate fraud in the seafood industry, were implicated in the Globe investigation.)

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Costume Designer Colleen Atwood Took Unlikely Path To Hollywood Royalty

Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood knows tough times. A single mom at 17 who once worked at a French fry factory to make ends meet is Hollywood royalty today. A favorite of director Tim Burton, Atwood is now costume designer for his adaptation of the darkly comic, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children and the upcoming Harry Potter prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
NPR

Carnegie Deli Says It Is Closing Down Its Landmark NYC Restaurant

As news of the closing rippled far beyond the deli's home turf in Manhattan Friday, hundreds of people responded with sadness and disbelief.
NPR

Trump And The Testosterone Takeover Of 2016

It's a historic election, with the first female major-party nominee. But for all that, Trump's masculinity has been on unusually prominent display.
NPR

The United Nations Is Launching A Space Mission

The U.N. is planning to send its first spacecraft into orbit, packed with scientific experiments from countries that can't afford their own space programs.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.